Category Archives: Five Stars

The Gumdrop House Affair

The Gumdrop House Affair (The Monk Mysteries Book 2) by [McKeever, Timony]

The Gumdrop House Affair, volume 2 in The Monk Mysteries, takes readers on a journey from the untimely death of Saul Greenberg, the financial officer for the Diocese, through the gruesome discovery of a horribly decomposed body no one can seem to explain, to the recurring appearance of the menacing turquoise eyes. Timony McKeever’s characters, Sergeant Jack Laskey and Father William Butler are both painfully aware of the presence and part played in the string of violent acts by the evil they refer to as “The Ugly.” Somewhere between Aunt Rhoda’s World Famous Apple Cobbler and Mona Monahan’s famed Gumdrop House lies the answer to the Laskey and Butler’s questions.

Mysteries top my preferred reading list, and The Gumdrop House Affair ranks among my favorites of recent years. Not having read volume 1 in the The Monk Mysteries, I don’t feel that I was lost. Readers need not read the first installment to fall nicely in step alongside Laskey and Butler as they struggle against “The Ugly.” McKeever does an excellent job bringing readers up to speed on his main characters’ backgrounds.

By far, the McKeever’s character, Aunt Rhoda, is my favorite among the many players in this work. Her strength and no-nonsense attitude permeates every scene in which she is featured. She is capable of curing most any ill with her frying pan alone–that includes the odd home invasion.

The Gumdrop House and its proprietor, Mona Monahan, are as unique as they are colorful. The Gumdrop House is a place of refuge and operated by Mona with open arms and no judgements. Mona is yet another of the author’s strong female characters. The account she relates of her face-to-face encounter with her grandfather, a mobster in his own right, demonstrates her tenacity.

Dialogue is one of McKeever’s most obvious strengths. The author transports readers to the scene of the crime with the colorful conversations between Laskey, Mona, Paisley Bob, and the rest of his lengthy list of players. Nowhere is this more evident than in the most violent and climactic scenes. I am not a fan of excessive profanity, but McKeever uses it sparingly enough and in the most appropriate circumstances to drive home his characters’ emotions.

Within The Gumdrop House Affair, the author intersperses an added layer of first person observations of Deputy Chief Thomas Dugan between authentic dialects and heated exchanges in order to explain his characters’ choices and actions. I truly appreciated this additional twist in McKeever’s writing. He gives his writing the feel of the classic detective novel with these ventures into the mind of one of his characters. This introspection is a welcome addition to the already engaging tale.

Fans of the mystery genre will not be disappointed with Timony McKeever’s police drama. Each of his characters has a rich personality and is portrayed in vivid detail. The multifaceted plot addresses everything from inherent evil to the corrupt dealings within the Catholic church itself. From beginning to end, McKeever’s mystery installment is laced with humor and brimming with everything that makes for an authentic and enjoyable thriller.

Pages: 266 | ASIN: B06Y4S6P44

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Successful Recovery and Relapse Prevention

Successful Recovery and Relapse Prevention by [Bill McCausland Ph.D.]

In the year 2000, 12.4% of the deaths worldwide stemmed from drug and alcohol abuse. This problem is a global pandemic with prevalence higher than diabetes. It is estimated that about 5% of the global population suffers from this problem. In the 1700’s, addiction was declared a disease.

Bill McCausland has outlined every step in the recovery process. He has done a fantastic job of explaining every step in the recovery process, provides a solid understanding of the principles, and talks about the three types of recovery.

The book gives an important tip on the use of denial. It is never intentional. An addict rarely knows they are using denial as a tool for maintaining the relapse. The discusses the difference between a slip and a relapse and assures you that the key is in recognizing each for exactly what it is and taking the necessary steps to getting back on track.

The comforting part is that neither a slip nor a relapse should exclude you from trying to get and stay clean. These could act as motivators to work harder and more consistently. The book reiterates that being in recovery is not recovery. You have to work at it every day of your life. This book does a great job of dispelling myths that could easily discourage you from trying.

This book makes it clear that family and friends are an integral part in the recovery process and building a support system for the recovering addict. I really liked how this book explains and encourages the development of this support system. Motivation from the system is great but essentially, the decision to clean up lies with you. These grounded observations are the many gems in this book.

For a book about addiction and recovery, it’s very engaging. The information is clear, concise and to the point. It gives the reader questionnaires and real world examples that fit the lessons therein, and provide an overall path through the recovery process. There is frequent use of familiar AA sayings and quotes, but it never becomes overwhelming. It feels like having a an AA meeting ready and waiting for you on a bookshelf.

Successful Recovery and Relapse Prevention is not an instructional booklet but a guide. It helps you understand the recovery journey better. The author is not condescending or judgmental. He does not discourage or admonish. The tone is very friendly. Every word sounds like it comes from a place of concern for the recovering addict. The concepts of the recovery process though difficult, are made much easier and actionable by Bill McCausland.

This book is useful to all stakeholders in the journey of recovery and will increase the chances of success at staying clean.

Pages: 140 | ASIN: B01NALH57G

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Turning Blue: A Life Beneath the Shield

Turning Blue: A Life Beneath the Shield by [Hoffman, Lawrence]

Turning Blue: A Life Beneath the Shield is like reading Lawrence Hoffman’s diary. This is a not a fiction novel, it is all real life told from Hoffman’s voice. The book starts out when Lawrence is just a boy and his fascination with uniforms. We walk though his college and young adult life as he takes different jobs and finds his way eventually ending up taking the police officer exam for the NYPD. From here the book is a series of stories, like sitting and listening to a relative recount their life. As a reader you get to hear his emotions, see what he sees, and experience life on the New York city streets from the eyes of the police from the moment he takes his exam, to his retirement over 20 years later.

One of the first things that grabbed me in this book was the details of New York, Lawrence describing growing up on Long Island (LI) and the city boroughs and bodegas it was almost nostalgic. I could imagine his life growing up on LI with his friends and their experiences with school and sports and even the crazy neighbor that he ends up respecting and admiring as he grows older. I felt like I was in the city the way Lawrence described the locations and the people he encountered, it made me want to keep reading. Aside from the great detail of NYC, the book is just engaging. The chapters are all individual memories and stories and each one is entertaining. You follow his career and you feel like you are right there with him as his partner. Some moments are horrifying, others are deeply emotional and touching. This account isn’t political, it isn’t written to sway readers to love or hate the police, it is just an account of his life. It is told on such a realistic level, he explains all the police codes and jargon as he goes along so you don’t need to Google search to constantly look up what each code calls for. It is written for the novice level reader when it comes to police terminology. A lot of this is explained though his stories as it was explained to him by his peers. It adds to the authenticity for me, Lawrence isn’t trying to impress anyone with his technical terms or fancy language, it is all just plain and simple to understand so you can focus on the experiences.

Reading Turning Blue: A Life Beneath the Shield is like watching the life of Lawrence Hoffman play out in front of you. You can’t help but become attached and be transported to those streets of New York. Even the scary moment and horrifying experiences you are right there with him and you don’t want to stop reading, you have to keep going to see how things turn out. It is not a book of happy stories, it is not all horror and gore, it is real. Life is full of good and bad, and Lawrence shows it all, he doesn’t hold back on corruption or the really good people that care deeper than you can imagine. This book drew me in and kept my interest all the way though, it is a worthy read and one you won’t regret picking up.

Pages: 394 | ASIN: B01B54DUU6

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This Does Not Leave This House

This Does Not Leave This House by [Coons, Julie]

This Does Not Leave This House, written by Julie Coons, is a true story of a survivor of abuse as she overcomes adversities and finds hope in moments of despair. The story reflects on Julie Coon’s childhood, teenage years and adulthood, sharing the deepest and most honest moments of her life. Between sharing her truths and experiences, Julie Coon also shows how someone can find strength and resilience through breaking free from the cycle of abuse. It’s a story that can be used as a resource of hope, for those who may be experiencing the trauma of abuse.

From the first page, I was instantly engrossed as the author shares some of the most raw and honest events of her life. These events are shocking and deeply unfair, but Julie entails to show the other side of the tunnel- the side where there is hope, healing and happiness. Her experiences of abuse will help those who are suffering from a similar situation, and shine a light on what many people experience daily. The powerful message behind This Does Not Leave This House shows how one can speak up against their abusers, against requests to keep information hidden and reiterates how abuse no longer should be kept a secret.

One of the important ideas discussed by Julie in the book is the idea of breaking the cycle of abuse. This sentiment stood out to me as many people would find it hard to break the cycle themselves. It was soul touching and beautiful to see how someone can make such huge changes and choices in their life when they could have very easily gone down the path of resentment and repetition of abuse. This does not leave this house is also a reminder to be kind, be respectful and to show empathy as you may not know the true extent of the horrors someone may be experiencing.

Abuse comes in many shapes and forms, and unfortunately, Julie Coons has had to experience them all. From emotional, physical and sexual abuse, it feels like the author has been handed every terrible situation possible. But she is strong, escapes terrible relationships and moves forward in her life to be a wonderful person and mother.

There is a beautiful and strong love that reverbs throughout the story when Julie Coon’s talks about her daughter. It warms the heart and soul and is a beacon of light throughout the novel, as you understand and feel how strong their bond must be. There is also an element of spirituality in the story as the author experiences near death moments and connections with loved ones that have passed.

From crazed nuns to narcissistic husbands, This Does Not Leave This House will be a novel guaranteed to make you laugh, cry and find the strength within yourself. I would recommend this for anyone who is looking for a novel that shows how someone can overcome abuse and find strength and courage in even the darkest of days.

Pages: 194 | ASIN: B078X4H8QR

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The Better Practices Guide to Change

The Better Practices Guide to Change by [Borysowich, Craig]

Change is important for progress. Change ensures that the business environment stays fresh. It puts the organization on a viable path to success. It breaks monotony.

Craig Borysowich covers a variety of business processes that are required to introduce and manage change. This book will arm the reader with the necessary skills to ensure they can effectively and successfully effect change in the organization. This book covers a range of business related issues and factors that lead to the ease and improvement of performance in the business environment.

Whether one is instrumental in the introduction of change or merely a supporter, they need to understand the unintended consequences of change. There is need to understand how to handle situations that could arise from the change and how to deal with the aftermath. Utilizing the tools found within this book will raise the chances of success for a change agent.

The Better Practices Guide to Change is filled with useful samples, examples, and templates that are directly applicable to the business environment.

The author does a good job of delivering the content in an understandable manner. The outline encourages better perusing of the material. The format is efficient and does not distract the reader from the subject at hand.  The worst thing about books in this genre is where the author gets braggy and condescending. The author does not commit that faux pas. He gives advice in a manner that leaves the reader feeling knowledgeable, smarter, and not stupid for not having known prior to reading.

Everything from the format to the material is deeply researched. One can tell that there is experience. The author does not try to aggressively force his ideas onto the reader but rather imparts knowledge for the taking at the reader’s discretion.

The subject has been exhaustively explained. All six sections cover different aspects of change in a way that leaves all questions answered. This book is like an elderly mentor. The author holds the reader’s hand through the sections, explaining each point and frequently pausing to check that they have understood. After reading this book, one will feel like they have just encountered their mentor through real world training.

This book takes on a very serious tone. It may at times feel more like a textbook than a guide. However, this is not a deterrent to the delivery. One will still get the message.

Craig has created a great reference guide. Often people who are responsible for the change process might have doubts about the change itself or doubt which route taken to achieve it. This book will help them review and revise if possible. It will affirm which plan is the correct one and therefore refresh one’s faith in the change. Change does not have to be a big scary ogre, and Craig ensures it is not.

Pages: 390 | ASIN: B078T1GW89

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In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree by [McLellan, Michael A.]

In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, by Michael A. McLellan, takes place in the 1860s and revolves around the lives of three people trying desperately to find their way in post-Civil War America. Henry, a man freed from slavery but never free from the horrors he endured, finds himself assisting Clara Hanfield in her quest to reunite with Lieutenant John Elliott, the man she loves and her father loathes. All three are caught up in the government’s plot to push the Native Americans from their land once and for all. Fate has dealt quite the hand to Henry, and his introduction to Clara and her mission to find John poses yet another obstacle to Henry’s quest to find the freedom and peace he deserves.

McLellan’s writing is simply breathtaking. The richness of the language he gives his characters immediately reels in the reader. The exchanges between Henry and Eliza are tender, and her early attempts to refine his speaking habits are affectionate and determined. The trials the two endure to survive as slaves in the South and their attempt to escape the lynch mobs running rampant tore at my heart. McLellan’s words ring all too true. Henry and Eliza’s story is painful, tragic, and well-crafted to convey the horrific circumstances of the era.

Clara’s rescue by Henry is one of those moments in the book worth rereading. Henry, for all intents and purposes, is making amends in any way he can for the loss he has suffered and the guilt he feels for that loss. Sweeping in and pulling Clara from the hands of the enemy, Henry begins a friendship he never could have seen coming. Theirs is a touching relationship punctuated with fleeting moments of light-hearted banter and anchored with fear and a fierce desire on both their parts to find their way to the right side of things. Clara, described as being much like her father, uses it to her advantage as she faces insurmountable challenges on her journey with Henry. Hers is a character refreshingly unlike any other I have read in the genre of historical fiction.

Randall breaks my heart. He is one of those characters the reader will root for from his first appearance. Without giving away too much of Randall’s subplot, I will say that from those first moments of indecision with Clara at West Point. I wanted to see Randall come out on top. The backstory involving his own child and his love for Clara makes for a unique connection and offers the reader all the more reason to admire Randall.

I am giving In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree an enthusiastic 5 out of 5 stars. McLellan has written a piece of historical fiction incorporating elements for every reader. His plotlines involving a family divided and the tragedy surrounding Henry’s life as a slave intertwine to create a beautiful story of friendship, trust, and stand as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. I highly recommend this book to any fan of novels from the Civil War era. McLellan’s characters are truly unforgettable.

Pages: 268 | ASIN: B071YMXDQL

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Angels: The Discovery

Angels: The Discovery by [Bryant, Starr Lee]

Angels: The Discovery, by Starr Lee Bryant, is the touching and sometimes harrowing tale of one boy’s ascent to Heaven. As young Fraser awakens in an unfamiliar and empty room, he struggles to remember how he arrived there and why he feels simultaneously at peace and full of an unexplained energy. Fraser becomes acquainted with several other young people in the same boat. Soon enough, he and the others are oriented to their surroundings, briefed on the details of their arrival in Heaven, and allowed to choose jobs within the kingdom–except Fraser. Even amidst the serenity, Fraser finds himself fighting to understand his true place and purpose among the other angels.

I was immediately struck by Bryant’s depiction of Fraser’s first moments in Heaven. He is overwhelmed but, at the same time, curious and calm. His surroundings are described in the most vivid and tangible details. The reader shares the main character’s peaceful and comforting sensation as he/she enters the first chapter. Bryant spends a great deal of time illustrating the pristine and comfortable quarters to which Fraser is oriented by Gabrielle, his assigned guide.

Bryant uses her cast of characters to emphasize two major aspects of Heaven. She has created Fraser in order to show readers the freedom from pain and suffering found in Heaven and to underscore the fact that those who make it to Heaven are, indeed, believers of God (The Big Guy). I was moved by the flashbacks Fraser experiences with increasing intensity and clarity. As he begins to learn more about the way he reached Heaven, he sees scenes from his life on Earth in a new way–a way he never would have been capable of as a mortal. Each of Bryant’s characters contributes to the plot in a unique way. I am quite partial to Ms. Jamerson, Fraser’s orientation instructor. She’s unflappable and more than willing to provide detailed explanations to Heaven’s newest residents.

One of the most unique aspects of Bryant’s depiction of Heaven centers on the angels’ relationships with their loved ones. The grieving process is very much an earthly sensitivity. Fraser learns quickly that, though he still loves the family he left behind, his feelings toward them will be much less sad, and the expected pining for their companionship and closeness is a not an emotion with which he will battle.

As beautiful and as perfect as Heaven and the angels are drawn in Bryant’s work, her narrative regarding the dark angels is breathtakingly disturbing. The author draws chills from the reader with Fraser’s first encounter with the dark angel hovering above his family. Bryant goes on to describe amazing scenes in which the dark angels seem to be silently dominating life on Earth.

Angels: The Discovery, by Starr Lee Bryant, deserves every one of the 5 stars I am giving it. Bryant provides a thought-provoking account of life after a hero’s death for believers in Christ. I found Fraser’s “choice” of job as both fitting for him and a wonderful tie-in to his concern for his family’s welfare after his death. In addition, Bryant leaves the door wide open for a stirring sequel featuring young Fraser.

Pages: 206 | ASIN: B0788PXZY9

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Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32

Don't Ever Look Behind Door 32 by [Fegan, B.C.R.]

B.C.R. Fegan’s Don’t Ever Look Behind Door 32 takes young readers on a journey through the magical Hotel of Hoo where Mr. Nicholas Noo gives his first-ever guests constant reminders to avoid, at all costs, door number 32. Behind each door leading up to 32, guests are treated to many surprises, some creepy and some quite humorous. Entertaining rhymes help light the way through the castle-like establishment as both the readers and the guests of the hotel meet and greet a bevy of characters who have taken up residence behind the first 31 doors. What lies behind Door 32? I’ll never tell!

I really love Fegan’s books for young readers. Lenny Wen, illustrator, creates some of the most vivid and striking images you will find in children’s literature. Wen gives his characters amazingly expressive eyes whether they are screaming in terror at ghosts cooking roasts, doing a double-take at a paintbrush-wielding elf, sneaking peeks at tea-drinking monsters, or (my favorite) marveling at miniature giants.

This particular tale takes on a Halloween feel and serves as a fabulous book to read aloud during October or as part of a monster-themed unit for elementary grades. As a third grade teacher, I can see using this book with my students to study rhyme, compare and contrast the findings behind each door, or as an inspiring writing prompt. The possibilities are as endless as the number of creatures housed behind each of the doors in the Hotel of Hoo.

Fegan does an excellent job of periodically reminding the reader that Door 32 is somewhat of an enigma and, possibly, the most feared of all doors in the Hotel of Hoo. Suspense builds throughout the book as the second-person narrative draws young readers into the different rooms, page by page, and treats them to a fantastic assortment of zombies, ghosts, wizards, and many more creatures of lore.

Fegan and Wen are, book by book, mastering the kiddie lit genre. With each successive book, their plots and accompanying illustrations take on more depth and even more vibrant characters. From the very first pages, this one has the feel of a classic in-the-making.

Pages: 36 | ASIN: B078VSML8V

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Empyrean

Empyrean (The Brin Chronicles Book 3) by [Cronin, Jim]

In Jim Cronin’s Empyrean, the third book in the Brin series, readers will find the perfect novel to tie the series together. Skae and the Gorvin, two empires find themselves stuck in a struggle for control. During the conflict, suspicion has been raised about Skae’s true motives towards the Brin. The head of the Brin Council, Maliche Rocker decides to go on a journey to uncover the truth and risks everything in the process. The race, the Kolbri, has the ability to interact with technology to travel through time and space to understand what truly went wrong once the Brin race came into existence. Both empires hang in the balance while the characters race to find the truth. What really caused the tension between old allies into mortal enemies?

Though science fiction can be technical, Cronin kept the text easy to understand and interesting. Having new characters and showing the perspectives of the characters the way that Cronin did, allows the reader to stay engaged and interested throughout the story. Cronin has the ability to keep the characters, and the reader, on their toes. The author does a great job showing both perspectives from both empires and keeping the personalities of the characters natural through impressive dialogue. The natural tension between both empires will allow readers to feel for both empires, understanding that they were once allies now enemies.

Occasionally certain terms as and political aspects may be somewhat hard to understand if you haven’t read the first two novels. Yet, I was still able to enjoy the novel and I think it can stand on it’s own. Otherwise, this is a satisfying way to connect to the other two novels. Cronin allows the narrative to flow effortlessly, connecting various intriguing theories together, and building tension throughout, allowing the reader to prepare for the climax. Any reader who has read the series will not be disappointed. Using great concepts, elements of science fiction, descriptive context and strong dialogue supports what is already some great character development. Jim Cronin did a fantastic job bringing his series to a close. I highly recommend you read book one and two in the series for a wildly enjoyable journey!

Pages: 274 | ASIN: B077ZBQWDT

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Action Men with Silly Putty

Action Men with Silly Putty: A Jack Donegal Mystery (Jack Donegal Mysteries Book 1) by [Clark, Susan Joy]

Susan Joy Clark’s Action Men with Silly Putty features two comrades in the toy business on the adventure of a lifetime. Clark’s main characters are best friends who are attached at the hip and one another’s voice of reason. Jack Donegal and the book’s narrator, Andy Westin, set off on their journey to uncover the mystery of a mistaken identity and to find out what the heck is so important about the teddy bear from 1915 that Jack purchases at an estate sale in San Francisco. From their company, Out of the Box Toy Design, to breakdowns of Picasso’s private escapades to the Salvador Dali special–it involves eggs and a toast–Action Men with Silly Putty is filled with eccentricities at every turn and brimming with mystery!

I have always been a mystery fan and jumped in headfirst wanting, wholeheartedly, to love Action Men. I wasn’t disappointed. Jack Donegal, a character with every quirk imaginable, is as interesting a central character as I have seen. He appears as an amalgamation of whimsical leads from a handful of stories throughout the years. Incredibly well-read, dead set on having a plethora of alternatives to the traditional curse words, and a virtual fount of knowledge, Jack leads Andy on a wild ride with Andy doing little to challenge each subsequent request. Clark has given readers a vivid personality in Jack Donegal who is impossible to forget.

It’s fairly clear from the beginning that Jack is the book’s focus, but, for me, Andy sets the tone of the entire story. His obvious frustration juxtaposed with his allegiance to Jack is highly relatable. Readers will find common ground with Andy as he fights the urge to question his best friend while simultaneously appeasing him. I thoroughly enjoyed the repartee between the two and give full credit to Andy for the book’s future success.

Clark is consistent with her depiction of Jack as the absent-minded professor type character. She bestows upon him the same qualities that make one Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory the lovable and appealing guy he is. Andy, faithful to Jack to the bitter end, has some truly fantastic lines. Clark brings laugh-out-loud moments via many of Andy’s thoughts: “I thought of that famous photo of Albert Einstein, the one where he was sticking out his tongue and looking anything but genius, and felt reassured…slightly.”–my favorite line in the book as Andy reveals his never-ending stress over Jack’s idiosyncrasies.

I am giving Action Men with Silly Putty by Susan Joy Clark 5 out of 5 stars. Clark’s success with the business partners-turned-private investigators team of Donegal and Westin is tied up neatly in her narrator. As the solution to the mystery of the teddy bear is pursued through colorful secondary characters and unique settings, Andy simply shines. Clark is eloquent, creates one scenario after another to engage readers in her comedy team’s plight, and helps to define a new niche in the mystery novel. In addition, the path to the mystery’s solution is peppered with pop culture references which will appeal to a broad range of readers.

Pages: 214 | ASIN: B00Y49AUXU

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